Taxi owners protesting against the City of Cape Town’s planned implementation of the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system clashed with police in Du Noon and Nyanga on Tuesday, with other incidents being reported around the city. The Du Noon taxi rank, normally a busy hub of commuters, resembled a battleground police and taxi owners exchanged rubber bullets and rocks while a taxi that had been set on fire belched foul-smelling black smoke.
The running battle between police and taxi bosses lasted for about three hours, forcing thousands of commuters to walk along the Potsdam road in an effort to catch a bus to get to work. Many others simply turned around and went back home.
The clash in Du Noon came after a Monday night meeting in which taxi bosses notified residents that they would not operate today and warned they would stone any private vehicle carrying more than two passengers.
While hundreds of residents began to arrive at the Du Noon taxi rank from about 6am yesterday, minibuses loaded with taxi bosses from Joe Slovo settlement near Milnerton who supported the protest, speeded along Potsdam road outside the township, with taxi bosses sticking their heads out the window jeering and waving their sjamboks in the air.
About 20 police who had converged at the entrance to the Du Noon taxi rank opened fire with rubber bullets at taxi bosses who started throwing stones at them from behind the cover of taxis and shacks.
A number of commuters were also hit by rubber bullets and a taxi which did not belong to the Du Noon Taxi Association (DTA) was set alight.
Police said nine people had been arrested in Du Noon and charged with public violence.
DTA spokesperson Terrence Mhlangatshoba said the protest was meant to be peaceful but police came and started shooting at taxi drivers and stray bullets ended up hitting innocent commuters.
There were similar scenes in Mew Way, Khayelitsha, where rubber bullets were fired to disperse a crowd of taxi bosses.
There were also reports of stones thrown on the N2 highway alongside Khayelitsha, disrupting morning traffic.
Rubber bullets were also fired at the central city taxi rank where Western Cape National Taxi Alliance spokesperson Alfred Maseti said three taxi owners were injured.
Maseti said one of the injured men looked as if he had been hit by a live round.
At mid-morning over a thousand taxi owners marched to the civic centre to hand a memorandum to mayor Helen Zille.
Watched by a heavy police presence the taxi owners burned dustbins and damaged traffic signs, however, no shots were fired.
A city representative accepted the memorandum at about midday, whereupon the Western Cape National Taxi Alliance committee held a press conference in a civic centre board room.
Alliance general secretary Mandla Matha said their grievances included the implementation of the BRT system which appeared to be set to “wipe out” the taxi industry; the impoundment of taxis for operating license permits; and the negative effect the taxi recapitalisation programme had on the industry.
Matha also said it appeared the taxi industry had been excluded from 2010 World Cup transport plans.
He said if these issues were not addressed the Western Cape taxi industry would withhold their votes in next year’s elections and suspend their services during the 2009 Confederations Cup and the 2010 World Cup.
But Maseti said taxi owners in Khayelitsha had vowed to block all the roads in the area tomorrow and it was “unlikely” they would resume operations, stranding tens of thousands of commuters.
During the morning Du Noon taxi owners also attacked a Golden Arrow bus outside the Bayside Mall in Blaauberg road.
Blouberg sub-council chairperson Vincent Bergh said taxi owners had smashed the windows out of a Golden Arrow bus and commuters who had tried to catch the bus were sjambokked.
Bergh said the driver had been badly hurt.
In a joint statement released last month the DTA, Yesterplaat Taxi Association (YTA) and Maitland Taxi Association (MATA) warned of bloodshed if the BRT system was forced onto their routes.
* Reporting by Peter Luhanga. Published in the Daily Sun, 10 December 2008.